Homecoming: Rilinger returns to Waynesboro YMCA to share passion

Holly Rilinger won a state championship at Waynesboro High School, led James Madison to the NCAA Tournament and played in the WNBA.

Not bad for a 5’4″ dynamo who was probably better suited athletically for anything other than success on a basketball court.

It was destined to come to an end, and it was the end of basketball that had Rilinger concerned about what was to come afterward.

“When I stopped playing basketball, I had a really real fear that I maybe wouldn’t live as passionately again. A part of me thought that as individuals, we’re only allowed a certain amount of passion in our life, and maybe I’d lived it all early, early in life. Maybe that was it. I had some fear about that,” said Rilinger, now a top fitness trainer sponsored by Nike whose global travels had her recently in Africa setting up a physical-education program for a girls’ school.

But that all came after she faced her fears about what was to become of her future.

“I never thought that anything would come close to the way I felt when I scored a basket and heard the crowd roar, or when I got an MVP award, or if I won a championship. Quite frankly, this is double that, this is triple that,” Rilinger said at an Oct. 6 event at the Waynesboro YMCA.

It was a homecoming for Rilinger, who cut her teeth as an athlete as a 7-year-old who decided after a season of Y basketball that she was going to play one day in the NBA.

“There wasn’t a WNBA then,” said Rilinger, who was the top point-guard recruit in the nation coming out of Waynesboro High School in 1990 before surprising the recruiting world with her decision to play close to home at JMU.

She graduated as the all-time leading scorer in JMU basketball history – male and female – before making a career of playing professionally overseas and a brief stint with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.

She did so with “a body that definitely wasn’t made for basketball.”

“I’m sure if somebody was trying to direct me in a place that would have been the best sport for me, it wouldn’t have been basketball. The problem is, I wouldn’t have had the passion. This is what I love. Passion drives it,” said Rilinger, whose approach as a fitness instructor is to help people find the passion that drives them.

“I can say with certainty that as a 7-, 8-, 9-year-old that I dreamt of becoming a professional basketball player. For me, that’s what I want to talk to these kids about. It may not be being a basketball player. It may not be being a swimmer. It may be being a ballerina or an architect. Whatever it is, see it, understand it clearly, put pictures of it around you, make it so real to yourself that there’s no way it’s not going to happen. And then make the plan to get there,” Rilinger said.

The event at the Y was maybe more than a homecoming for Rilinger. Among those in attendance were her coaches and several teammates from her WHS state-title days and her college strength and conditioning coach, who she attributes with motivating her to find her passion post-basketball.

“He told me that when you take what you’ve learned, and you give that back to people, that’s when you will find that passion again,” Rilinger said. “I can say that with certainty now. I’m living with double the passion that I was then because I’m able to reach so many more people. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about being able to lift other people up, whether it’s children, adults, teams, individuals, and lead them to a similar life as I’ve lived.”

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